The US attorney general, Merrick Garland, moved on Friday to end sentencing disparities that have imposed different penalties for different forms of cocaine and worsened racial inequity in the US justice system.
For decades, federal law has imposed harsher sentences for crack cocaine even though it isn’t scientifically different from powder cocaine, creating “unwarranted racial disparities”, Garland wrote in a memo. “They are two forms of the same drug, with powder readily convertible into crack cocaine.”
With changes to the law stalled in Congress, Garland instructed prosecutors in non-violent, low-level cases to file charges that avoid the mandatory minimum sentences that are triggered for smaller amounts of rock cocaine.
Civil rights leaders and criminal justice reform advocates applauded the changes, though they said the changes would not be permanent without action from Congress.